Ishmael Mkhabela began his political activism in the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM). After the BCM was banned, he served as a member of the Soweto Action Committee which was organized to deal with the increasing detention of anti apartheid struggle leaders. Mkhabelawas one of the founders of Azanian People’s Organisation (AZAPO) alongwith Lybon Mabasa, Khehla Mthembu and LetsatsiMasola among others on 28 April 1978 in Roodepoort, Johannesburg. He was elected as the chairman of the Interim Committee of AZAPO in 1978 and six years later, he was elected president.
On 4 May 1978 Mkhabela together with fellow AZAPO leader Lybon Mabasa were arrested in Soweto and detained under the General Law Amendment Act of 1963. They were subsequently charged with terrorism for their part in the strugglefor freedom. Mkhabela headed AZAPO during a turbulent time particularly when it was in conflict with the United Democratic Front (UDF) in the 1980s. He rejected talks with the UDF after complaining that four members of AZAPO were killed and 19 others injured in clashes between the two organizations. Mkhabela’s presidency was short-lived as he later stepped down so he could work more closely with the community.
Mkhabela continues to work closely with communities as a development practitioner who is a board member of a number of trustees and organizations that are involved in community development. These include the Johannesburg Social Housing Company, the Steve Biko Foundation, the Kabo Development Trust, Aggrey Klaaste Nation Building Foundation and the Central Johannesburg Partnership among others. He is also the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Interfaith Community Development Association. Though he began as a political activist, his interest has been on social issues, thus he has focused less on politics and more community initiatives since South Africa achieved democracy.
Armed with great negotiation and persuasive skills, Mkhabela has even taken on projects of taking over properties from slum lords in crime ridden Hillbrow. With his life in potential danger, he uses his negotiation skills to gain rapport with the slum lords and work on reclaiming properties. Mkhabela's diligent commitment to improve the living conditions of Johannesburg communities has won him numerous awards, the most notable being the Stan Nkosi Achievement Award for 2010.
Centre for innovation and health management Johannesburg, South Africa: |Ishmael Mkhabela, from Centre for innovation and health management, [online], Available at: www.cihm.leeds.ac.uk [Accessed on 4 October 2011]|City of Johannesburg (08 July 2010) Mkhabela: in class of his own, from City of Johannesburg [online] available at: www.jda.org.za [Accessed on 04 October 2011]|Mzamane MV, Maaba B & Biko N, The Black Consiousness Movement in The Road to Democracy in South Africa, Volume 2 1970-1980, p.150|Gail M. Gerhart GM & Glaser CL, (2010), From Protest to Challenge: A Documentary History of African Politics in South Africa, (Indiana University Press), p.75|Harry Mashabela(1987), A people on the boil: reflections on June 16, 1976 and beyond, (Johannesburg), p.177|Moseley R (1985), Infighting Splits Apartheid Foes, from the Chicago Trubune, 08 May, [online], Available www.chicagotribune.com [Accessed 04 October 2011]